Playing tourist in Mumbai
There are currently only two flights a week from Mumbai to Karachi so we had to stay on in Mumbai for a few extra days thus giving us the opportunity to play tourist. So after breakfast on Saturday we decided to leave the hotel and head for South Bombay (which is about 20+ kilometres from where we were staying). Taking a cab would have been boring. So we thought why not travel by train as most of the locals do in Mumbai. It is, after all, one of the most heavily used rail networks in the world. So off we went.
We took the scenic route to the train terminal – the skywalk which gave us a birds eye view of this part of the city – the traffic jams, some slums and the 60 sq km of mangroves in Mumbai which are known to attract nearly 206 species of birds, 35-40 reptiles, 16 crabs, at least three types of prawns and several fish species.
Most cities have poor, crowded, under-developed areas as well as highly developed modern segments, but this city is truly a contradiction. You get off the plane and on the way to your 5-star hotel, you will see little khokas, slum housing alongside some of the finest buildings and highways.
What is unnerving is that with the wealth that is being generated in this country, the slums don’t appear to be decreasing, nor does the number of those who live below the poverty line. At least that is the impression I get having travelled here many times during the past 9 years.
As we looked around we saw how some of the poor people lived, with huts constructed on water pipes & sewerage piple, the water that flowed in the fields where their vegetables grew (and was probably the water they drank & used for washing clothes and utensils) was absolutely black. And yet as we walked, we saw how technology is becoming quite pervasive with satellites of Airtel, Tata and other carriers finding their way on top of these make-shift homes.
We finally made it to the train station. It was not that long a walk but since we stopped for discussions and photos, it took a lot longer. Anyway, after purchasing the train tickets, we waited for a train that had apparently already departed but the sign didn’t indicate the change. When the train arrived, we got into the first class cabin and started our journey. We were told that sometimes, the kids whose homes were on either side of the tracks, tended to throw stones at the train purely for fun not realizing that it could take someone’s eye out, or as in the case of someone we know, actually cause a death because it hit him on the head at great speed.
We continued our walk to Kala Ghora but the walk was interrupted by stops at Bookzone and a computer bookshop where Syed Ahmad went crazy. He ended up buying so many books that they had to arrange delivery to the hotel :).
We couldn’t spend much time at Khala Ghora because we had planned to head off to Elephanta Island to see the caves. We had just enough time for a quick but substantial lunch before we hurried on to the Gateway of India having bought ferry tickets for Elephanta.
I love being on the water so the one and a half hour ferry ride, with the wind blowing across my face, was just what I needed. When we got to the island, and I realized that I was expected to climb 100 steps to get to the caves, I decided I was going to stay put while Syed and Faisal sauntered off. Thanks to Syed’s flip, I was able to see what I had missed – amazing carvings out of stone, most of them damaged over time. Totally worth seeing.
The Taj Hotel and the Gateway of India are both such lovely structures by day and by night.
We got back from Elephanta Island and then I broke away from the group for a while so that I could go check out Kala Ghoda Festival which is an annual 9-day festival started off in 1999 and held in early February, in the Kala Ghoda area of South Mumbai.
The Festival is organised by the Kala Ghoda Association (a non-profit organisation that states its objectives as “physically upgrading the Kala Ghoda sub-precinct and making it the Art District of Mumbai”) and curated by teams handling each of the sub-festivals.
The sub-festivals feature the visual arts, dance, music, theatre, cinema, literature, lectures, seminars and workshops, heritage walks, special events for children, and a vibrant street festival. Entry to all events is free and costs are met through corporate sponsorship.
As I walked around the festival exhibition area looking at the arts and crafts stalls put up by various NGOs, and listening to the musicians and watching the dancers who were performing on the Open Air stage, it was nice to see how people from different parts of society had converged on the site enjoying all the activities that had been arranged for them free of charge – a great way to promote art and culture.
I wandered around until it was time to meet up with the others and head back to the hotel. It had been an eventful and interesting day. We had thoroughly enjoyed it but it had tired us out. I decided to turn in soon after getting back to the Trident Hotel. Good night everyone.
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